High school senior Trent Harris reports to school every morning at 9. He takes batting practice, infield grounders and occasionally pitches until noon. Following a break for lunch, Harris returns to school for an hour of weight-lifting, then independent study hall follows until 4:30 p.m.
Instead of attending Heritage High School in Wake Forest where he played as a junior last year, Harris is a full-time baseball student. He attends Pro5 Baseball Academy at the home of the Holly Springs Salamanders in the summer wood-bat Coastal Plain League. His baseball season will conclude soon, and he will complete his academic studies toward a diploma next month.
Harris, a 6-5, 185-pound shortstop and pitcher, will be among the first class of graduates from Pro 5, the first full-time academy for baseball in North Carolina. From there, Harris would like to be drafted by a major-league organization. Or he can fulfill his commitment to attend High Point University to play baseball.
“It was a big change, for sure,” Harris said. “I love it, though.”
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Academies with an emphasis on sports have been sprouting around the Southeast in recent years, perhaps following the lead of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. IMG boards students and offers a full academic schedule to athletes who want to hone their skills year-round in baseball, basketball, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, and track and field. Former Duke basketball point guard Trevon Duval graduated from there.
There are numerous baseball academies in Florida with another in Alabama and one in Georgia. A baseball academy will open soon in South Carolina.
“We’re trying to offer a year-round developmental program where players will get daily instruction and highly competitive games,” said Mike Griffin, Pro5’s lead instructor for hitting and fielding who played at the University of Hawaii and has coached baseball on five continents.
Because Pro5 does not offer an academic curriculum, high school students who attend the academy take courses online. That can be accomplished through the Crossroads Flex program offered in Wake County public schools or North Carolina Virtual Public Schools.
Harris takes courses through Crossroads Flex, which recognizes a student’s pursuit of a specific interest, such as dancing or music, in lieu of in-class studies. NCVPS was established in 2005 to provide e-learning opportunities for students.
Academic support is offered by Pro5 as one of its five areas of development for athletes. The others include leadership and character, baseball training, strength and athletic development, and competition.
Jay Stott is the academy’s general manager who oversees the operation including everything from academic to social and spiritual guidance. Stott played at UNC Wilmington. Also on the staff is Corey Lee, a first-round pick of the Texas Rangers who pitched one game in the major leagues, and Drew Anderson, an Ohio State product who reached the Triple-A level of the minor leagues.
“We’re all kind of biting the bullet to get this thing started,” Lee said of the financial side of the operation. In addition to working the camp, Lee operates a Phoenix TLS scrap-metal recycling business in Raleigh.
Attending the academy is not inexpensive. Juniors in high school pay $15,000 in tuition and seniors are charged $10,000, according to Lee. Pro5 offers competition against junior college and NCAA Division II opponents as well as other academies.
The instructors realize the academy is not for everyone, and they will not accept athletes unless they see potential for them to play in college or beyond.
“You want to try to help the kid,” Lee said. “Putting a kid in a situation where he’s not going to be successful isn’t helpful to anybody. You’ve got to want to be here every day. One of the benefits is that when they step into a college environment, they’re ready to compete right away.”
Three players on the current 14-player roster have committed to play at N.C. State. Additionally, players have committed to play at Appalachian State, Gardner-Webb, UNC Charlotte and UNC Wilmington.
For someone like Harris, the son of former major-league pitcher Greg Harris, attending the academy meant giving up the camaraderie of being at a public high school as well as the quest for a championship that comes with playing prep baseball.
Harris said playing baseball full-time was worth the sacrifices. Besides, he did get to attend several of Heritage High’s football games last fall with his new teammates and attended the Millbrook High prom.